I was listening to one of my favorite NPR programs yesterday, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, and the topic felt very relevant to me. The always eloquent Mr. Ashbrook and his guests, Ilan Stavans, Robert Reid and Greg Sullivan were discussing travel, and whether or not advances in technology and globalization have made “real travel” harder to come by. You can listen to the episode below or at http://onpoint.wbur.org/2012/07/18/real-travel. If you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling it will be interesting to you.
There is an important distinction here. Traveling is easier than ever. If you have a little bit of cash (or sometimes even if you don’t), you can hop on a plane and wind up anywhere in the world within a day. There’s no year long trek through the Oregon Trail, losing half your party to dysentery along the way. The world is smaller than ever, and that’s an amazing thing. But as a result of these incredible conveniences, are we losing something along the way? Many would argue yes. You can fly halfway around the world, and find yourself at a hotel that looks exactly like one you would find at home. The travel industry is built upon carefully crafted experiences, wherein the traveler can control every aspect of the journey. You see the sights, you take the pictures and post them on Facebook, but did you ever REALLY even leave home? Travel is about search. Sometimes it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But to really experience the transformative benefits of travel, you have to dive in head first. Get lost. Leave your map and your smartphone at home. Embrace the chaos of your new surroundings, and you might find that you learn something new about yourself. I’d like to think that at LanguageCorps, by helping people get paid to Teach English Abroad, we’re on the “real travel” side of the debate. I don’t believe there is a better way to really experience a new location than by actually living there. I’m talking about leaving your hotel behind, finding an apartment, or a host family, and immersing yourself in your new surroundings. Teaching English Abroad is a great way to make this type of extended travel possible. Because let’s face it, most of us aren’t in the position where living abroad for a year, or two, or more, with no income, is a financial possibility. But a job teaching English eases that burden considerably, and I feel very fortunate that LanguageCorps has been able to help countless people avoid the mega tourism industry altogether. What do you think? Is real travel a thing of the past?